How to Remove Tile Backsplash Without Damaging Wall

Removing a tile backsplash can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, you can remove the tiles without damaging the wall behind them. Here are some tips for safely and successfully removing tile backsplash.

Gather the Proper Tools

Before starting demolition, be sure you have the proper tools on hand. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Hammer – Use a small claw hammer or tile removal hammer to break the grout and pry up tiles.
  • Putty knife or painters tool – Slide these under tiles to pop them off the wall.
  • Safety glasses – Tile shards can fly when removing, so glasses are a must.
  • Dust mask – Wear a mask to avoid breathing in tile dust and grout particles.
  • Gloves – Gloves will protect your hands from sharp edges and debris. Leather gloves work best.
  • Plastic tarp – Lay a tarp down to collect fallen tiles and simplify clean up.

Prepare the Workspace

Take some time to prep the area before stripping tiles:

  • Clear countertops and remove anything breakable from the workspace.
  • Detach any appliances, backsplashes, or fixtures attached to the wall.
  • Cover nearby surfaces with plastic sheets to protect from debris.
  • Have a shop vacuum ready to frequently clear away tile pieces.

Break Grout Lines First

Always break the grout between tiles before attempting to pry them off. This prevents tiles from pulling chunks of drywall off with them.

Use the claw of a hammer or a grout removal tool to scrape out all grout lines surrounding each tile. Work methodically across the entire backsplash surface.

Once grout is removed, the tiles should lift off much easier without latching onto the drywall.

Carefully Pry Tiles Off

With the grout lines cleared out, you can start prying tiles off the wall. Take your time and be gentle to avoid wall damage.

  • Slide the putty knife or painter’s tool under the corner of a tile.
  • Slowly twist the tool to pop the tile off, working around all edges.

-Aim tools away from your body in case a tile shard flies off.

  • Remove one tile at a time until the backsplash is bare.

Clean Away Adhesive Residue

In most cases, backsplash tiles are attached using mastic adhesive. This sticky substance will be left on the wall after tile removal.

There are a few ways to clean off the adhesive residue:

  • Use a putty knife to scrape away large chunks.
  • Apply adhesive remover chemical and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
  • Scrub the wall with steel wool or a rough sponge.
  • Wipe the wall down with mineral spirits for a final clean.

Be sure to wear gloves during the cleaning process to avoid skin irritation. Work carefully to get all the adhesive off so walls are ready for new backsplash tile.

Avoid Damaging Drywall

Removing tiles improperly can tear the drywall behind the backsplash. Here are some tips to keep the wall intact:

  • Never pry multiple tiles off at once. Work slowly tile-by-tile.
  • Don’t let tools dig into drywall while scraping out grout lines.
  • Take care not to gouge or puncture the wall surface when cleaning adhesive.
  • Repair any nicks or gouges in the drywall with spackle before installing a new backsplash.

Hire a Pro for Asbestos Tiles

If your backsplash contains asbestos tiles, do not attempt DIY removal under any circumstances. Asbestos is hazardous if inhaled. Let a professional asbestos abatement company remove and dispose of the tiles safely.

FAQs About Removing Tile Backsplash

Removing a tile backsplash brings up many questions for DIYers. Here are some frequently asked questions with answers:

How long does it take to remove a tile backsplash?

Plan on tile removal taking 2-3 hours for a average-sized backsplash of around 30 sq ft. Working slowly and carefully is more important than speed.

What’s the easiest way to remove stubborn tiles?

For really stuck-on tiles, use a multi-tool or oscillating tool. The rapid oscillations help loosen the tile so it can be pried off easier.

Should I remove the drywall too?

In most cases, the drywall underneath is fine to remain. Remove it only if the wall surface is very damaged. New tile can be applied over drywall.

What about the tile underlayment or cement board?

These are also usually fine to leave in place for new tile installation. Scrape off all old thinset first.

Can I put up new tile right after removing the old backsplash?

It’s best to take a day or two to ensure the wall surface is prepped and ready for new tile. Repair drywall damage and clean all adhesive residue first.

What’s the safest way to get rid of old tiles?

Broken tile pieces can be disposed of in the regular household trash. For whole intact tiles, box them up carefully to prevent breakage en route to the dump.

Is it better to demolish the tiles or try removing them whole?

Demolishing with a hammer is quicker but creates more shards and dust. Removal by prying tiles off leads to cleaner results. Both methods work.


Removing an outdated or damaged tile backsplash takes some diligence, but can be managed as a DIY project. Carefully break up grout lines first, then pry tiles off gently to avoid harming the drywall underneath. Be sure to don safety gear and work slowly. With the proper tools and techniques, you can demolish the old backsplash without damaging walls in the process. Take time to clean all adhesive off fully so the wall is prepped and ready for your stylish new backsplash tile.